Back to school

September is here and those placards and posters which have been foretelling doom all summer long have now come true!  It’s ‘back to school’ time.

For parents that means the trauma of sorting out uniform and pencil cases and slotting into a new routine of school runs and homework, washing PE kit and after-school activities. For pupils there is the challenge of new teachers and new subjects, new classmates and settling down to learning after a summer of fun. And for those who don’t fall into either category there is still the challenge of navigating the road congestion which occurs around the time of the school run and which has been blissfully absent throughout the summer.

But above all for everyone back to school means shaking up assumptions and complacency; being prepared to review and adapt in the face of changing circumstances. So perhaps back to school is also a good time for businesses to take stock, to review existing practices and processes in the search for improvements.

Take communication for example. It’s long been said that communication is the lifeblood of business and yet far too often we take our ability to communicate for granted. So much so that it is only when our communication systems go down that we truly appreciate their worth. I’m sure that like me you too have been in an office where one reason or another the phone or IT systems were cut off for a short period. The instant first response is that if you can’t carry on with your normal work you’ll just do this or that whilst the systems are down only to realise this and that also rely on picking up the phone or clicking on a mouse.

And certainly disaster recovery is one of those areas which businesses perhaps should pay more attention to; putting plans in place to keep communication and production lines flowing as far as possible. But whilst much of business continuity planning relates to replicating existing systems, perhaps back-to-school time should be one in which we question whether existing systems and processes really meet the ongoing needs of the business.

If we are serious about challenging existing assumptions the key to success is to go right back to basics, to question and to review every element of a process. When we do that it is surprising how often it’s that one key element of process which we take for granted and therefore never question which can be the secret to unlocking a whole new way of working.

For example, take that phone number which stood you in such good stead when you first started up. It easy to assume that the business phone number is fixed, that changing it could lead to all sorts of complications and expense. And you may be right, but on the other hand reviewing or adding to your existing number could open up a whole new way of communicating. Should you really be dependent on landline calls or would communicating via the internet (VoIP) before more cost-effective, particularly in an era in which your key customers or suppliers may be overseas. And is your existing local/standard rate/premium rate/freephone number really delivering the right message to your customers. Could adding new numbers or offering an information line make the difference when potential customers are thinking of picking up the phone to call?

Reviewing your business phone number is just the start. What happens when calls arrive in the office, what systems are used to answer or transfer calls and how do you ensure that callers reach the appropriate department as swiftly as possible. Do you know the answers or do you assume, and have you ever tested the system from the point of view of the customer? Back-to-school is a time for challenging and learning, for making improvements that will stand you in good stead in the future. What lessons can your business learn this autumn?

Written by Alison